When we reached the falls, John instructed us to gather in a circle and to tell everyone a bit about our lives. Fascinating stories followed of exciting travel, wondrous adventures, and terrifying encounters with death.
One man in the group had survived a mid-air collision between the Cessna he was piloting and another plane. The couple from Colorado had nearly died two years earlier when their car was swept down a mountain in an avalanche in the Rockies. But the most harrowing tale was told by a young man who came with them who survived the horror of having his mother gunned down by her ex-husband before the man turned the gun on himself.
John also knows tragedy and survived forty-two near-death experiences during his career as an adventurer. He too walked away from a plane crash, was once charged by an elephant, nearly fell to his death on numerous occasions, and almost drowned on several others. He also survived bouts with several tropical diseases, including malaria.
But ironically, it was back in the civilized world where he may have faced his toughest challenge. That was when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and given only a ten-percent chance of surviving the next five years. He was able to face the illness in typical John Goddard-like fashion. In his book The Survivor he wrote, “Upon being informed of the seriousness of my condition, I immediately set the goal of overcoming the disease and regaining normal health.”
That was twenty-six years ago. Each close encounter with death gave him a renewed appreciation for life. This belief extends to nature, where he has been content to bag big game on hunts with his camera, and not with a rifle.
“I did have to kill a warthog on the Nile expedition,” John explained. “It fed our party for two weeks. But it got even by giving me a tapeworm. From that point on, I never traveled alone,” he laughs.
As we hiked back to our cars, Kim and I thanked the young man from Colorado for sharing his story with us. We complimented him on being able to pull himself up from the tough life of drugs and gang activity that he had fallen into after his mother’s murder to become the gifted and talented student that he is today.
“I certainly had help,” he said, “and I was lucky to find some great role models. John Goddard was one of them. It was an honor for me to be here today to thank him personally.”
I understood him perfectly. I was also lucky when I was eighteen to find a great role model in John Goddard. Because of his nudge that day at the lecture, coupled with the power of writing things down, I’ve been able to go on an adventure or two of my own over the past thirty years, including pedaling a bike across the U.S., backpacking through forty countries, and like my hero, climbing Kilimanjaro.
“The ultimate goal,” John once said to me, “is to savor each day – to embrace life.”
And thanks to following John Goddard’s example, I’ve been one of the thousands who have learned to savor lots of the good stuff in life that might otherwise have been missed.
(BTW, I spoke to John on the phone today. He’s doing great.)